People ask me what my life is like as an "indie artist". If they kind of know what I do, they sometimes ask me how I do so much of it, how I manage not to get disheartened, how I keep writing, having new ideas, or whatever.
If they have no idea about my activities, knowing that I only really leave the house about once a month to go and buy in food supplies, they ask me “What do you do all day?”
If they get surprised by something I say in passing (such as, “Oh, I’m working on my 8th album release. It's called "Let There Be Light" and I'm working on the album cover now so I can deliver it to the aggregator. I'm also slowly putting more stuff in my shop… I have about 900 more items to go and then it’ll all be in there.”), they might ignore it as so much incomprehensible nonsense, or it might dawn on them what I mean, and then they ask me “How do you find the time to do so much?” But it’s usually in that tone that makes you feel like they think you’re lying, and actually you’re just chilling on the couch doing nothing at all. After all…. you’re taking time to talk to them, aren’t you? You never seem busy... And it's not like they're going to actually go and see everything you've been doing. That's a lot of work for them, after all, and they have lives of their own....
So, in the minds of people who know me, on the one hand, I’m a do-nothing layabout who rarely dresses. On the other hand, I’m a demon-genius of endless production, but no one can figure out how that happens, because whenever anyone drops by or contacts me, I make time to at least talk to them and find out what they need, maybe talk them through some crisis or just shoot the shit and catch up.
It’s actually kind of interesting how people assume that you have literally nothing else you’re doing if you stop and make time for them, just because. They assume that if you're talking to them without wanting to get something out of them, free of ulterior motives (if they even believe such people exist anymore), you must be some kind of mentally-deficient idiot with absolutely nothing else going on in your life at all. And it's pretty sad that they think that way, if you think about it.
Incidentally, I've been releasing albums for about a year and a half now. And designing clothing and other stuff for about 6 months, I think, more or less. It's still very early days for both those things, and I’m pretty sure *most* of my friends and acquaintances still have no idea what I actually do. Most of them haven’t heard any of the songs, haven’t realised they’re my own, and don’t know that these weird albums and designs and clothing items I keep posting up in my personal newsfeeds are all mine. They haven't got the time to realise it, and there’s maybe some mental block that just doesn’t want to know. And you know, I’ll share this stuff to them because, after all, these are people I actually know or have some connection to in my "real life", but I don’t push it. I don't beg my acquaintances to start buying stuff or listening to stuff they have no real ear for or aesthetic attraction to, and that's actually a failing on my part in this day and age. That’s an outdated style of personal integrity I just can’t bring myself to break through. The idea of “networking” still reeks of Amway and other assorted pyramid scams (oops, sorry… “MLM solutions”) to me. I’m old-fashioned like that. I also understand that what I do is a full-on onslaught of, well, me. And I accept that that's a pretty weird pill to swallow, even in pretty small doses.
Occasionally, friends will catch on for a moment (fleeting and brief), say the stuff I've shared is amazing, and maybe ask how rich it’s making me. There's no doubt there is money to be made in the music, fashion and fine arts industries. But if you're an independent go-it-alone artist who's just starting out, that money has to pass quite a few barriers before it seeps out in your general direction. But people don't know that. They think if you're creating and promoting stuff (never mind that they've seen it because they know you personally), you must be making bank. As a result of this widespread misconception, I’ve sold 2 shirts to people I know personally. Actually, both shirts were to my ex-husband. At cost. Because he was really enthusiastic. Genuinely so. He's accustomed to pretty big doses of... hehe well.... the kind of weirdness that springs out of me.
So, for the record, and because this is leading up to something, an actual point with context like super-old-book-readin'-folk style illustrative writing, I'm going to tell you about my day. About what it's actually like living as an "indie artist".
On a typical day, I get up in the morning at around 6:30 or 7, have coffee, play with my dog, eat some breakfast with my partner and talk about stuff, plan what stuff we need to do and generally just enjoy waking up together. If I'm lucky, I go and have a poop. Then I'll come back and have a look at social media and maybe some news as I wake up, take note of things that I dreamed, or which presented themselves to me which I find interesting and intriguing, and maybe make some notes (or write down some song titles, lyrics snatches or vague notational ideas and explorations worth exploring that have got sparked in me overnight or as I perform these ordinary little morning rituals). If I'm in the middle of working on a song, I'll listen a couple of times to what I've already done while I'm still half-asleep, so it can filter down into my subconscious mind a little differently than normal, and see what that does for the next steps. Then I'll action any emails or communications that I think need immediate action (ok, ok…that means deleting them, most of the time), and then I settle into my own work for the day by around 8am. Today, for instance, this involved practicing (and recording) Parsi pronunciation in order to mangle them, William Shatner style, for some lines from Rumi for a Star Trek kind of Sufi song, called "The Final Frontier" to round out this 8th album, which looks at human religion, and the psychology engendered by different forms of belief systems. Tomorrow it will involve laying down the structure of a song about how, under the auspices of freedom and opportunity, the "Capitalist machine" grinds the hopeful and struggling masses into dust to feed the profits in the Temple of the Low... from the machine's point of view, because after all.... it's way more fun that way. And that's for the 9th album, which has yet to reveal to me its main theme in all its effulgent fulness. At some point tomorrow, I will begin painting the album cover for "Let There Be Light", and listen to the tracks carefully to arrange them in their correct order (even though many people never do listen to albums as complete entities anymore).
I work from home, so generally when I switch tasks (songwriting to design or painting, say), I take a little break and do some work in the house or outside — an hour cleaning, tidying, organising inside or outside, just to move around a bit and keep our living space a little better than, well, a complete tip. I spend about half an hour chatting to a friend most mornings while editing photos in the background after a couple of hours of music. Then, once that person goes off to start their day, I settle into whatever work I’m doing at the time in earnest. It’s usually a combination of composition, recording, mixing, and (when my ears get tired during mixing) design or photo prep for the shop. If I’m bringing out a new release, this will include visuals for each of the songs, and designing an album cover, which I’ll either design 100% in the computer, or which I’ll paint, scan in and then digitally manipulate to include the text and maybe some nifty special effects. The song visuals aren't strictly necessary, but they're something I can share, maybe put onto some posters, and they also help to give me a feel of what this work I've completed looks like as a whole, as a thing-in-itself. They're a lot of fun to create, besides, and they help me to relax a little while thinking out the themes of my next album, and to hone my digital design skills.
During new release times (rarely other times, unfortunately, until I get all this shop stuff sorted out slowly) if I have the energy, I’ll seek out CC0 (public domain) video elements to weave into a strange video or two, and create different effects to overlay these. It’s pretty time-consuming, and since right now my Youtube channel has pretty much nobody looking at it, I don’t do it as often as I’d like to because I have to divide my time with everything else. That's also (incidentally) why these blog posts are few and far between. Marketing strategy tells us that Google picks up websites that change regularly and frequently, and a good way to get your page up into better rankings is to write a regular blog with real content, then people will come across you more easily, even when they're searching for something else. Well... that's if you actually make the time to do it.
I try to do some write-ups each day for the streetwear and arty products I design too, but it’s quite tiring compared to everything else, so that’s a slow and steady trickle of probably my second-least favourite part of my work. Actually, the shop stuff feels kind of endless, and I’m cutting back and putting in only those designs I like best now, because I still have to bring out fresh stuff at least 4 times a year. I’m slowly getting the hang of it, but I'm not sure releasing "seasonal collections" is the best way, since there's always more going in in dribs and drabs as I get already-created stuff written up and into the shop, and as I make more stuff even while knowing that I probably shouldn't add to that particular work pile. I can't help it though. It's fun to make the stuff.
Once I write up a description, prep all the photos, upload them, tag them to optimise them for search result hits in Google, add all the special inventory codes for variations (colours and sizes), I can add an item to the shop. Once it’s in the shop, and before I forget, I upload links to it in my Pinterest account. If it’s part of a seasonal collection, I’ll also try to upload it along with some other things to generate interest on my Facebook page, Instagram and (hahaha I don't even know why anymore...) Tumblr.
Regardless of what I’m doing, I find a good stopping-point at around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, and I cook our main meal of the day; we generally eat by around 3 or 4. After that, I work some more until I have a break around 9pm to spend some cuddle time with my partner. We watch anime, maybe (occasionally) a crappy live-action movie. After that, call it 10:30, I’ll chat to a friend online, do more graphic design work or composing and organise my music work to a good starting point for the next day. I’m usually finished by about 11:30 or midnight, although if I’ve had some strange inspirations, this might go on with some last-minute obsessive music creation until 1:30 or 2 in the morning, at which point my partner tells me it’s bedtime, and means it. I end the day by listening to whatever music I've been working on, and make a mental note of what I can hear (but isn't there yet) that I need to begin with when I wake up.
So, on a normal day, not counting the time spent cooking or cleaning or relaxing with my partner, I probably devote about 11-12 hours to this work. “Creating content” as they call it these days. Probably about three-quarters of that will be composing, recording and mixing on a good day. On a not-so-good day, I do all shop work. Then I feel a bit drained and depressed because I found no time to make music, but I generally feel pretty satisfied if I've managed to put a good dent in the backlog. For my own happy disposition and to retain a clear vision of what drives me, I try to make music every day for at very, very least a couple of hours. It keeps me going. And it’s kind of the point of it all. The fashion is fun, and possibly a little more accessible than the music (which I know is challenging. That’s kind of my musical mission. To stamp the experience of this particular incarnation into musical form). I do all of this 7 days a week.
Because I’ve always been profoundly disappointed in “band merch”, I decided to start designing stuff that I like personally, to "grow the visibility" of my musical activities. The shop, the designs, the clothing and arty stuff have all grown out of that. I like the idea that you can see a shirt you really like and know nothing about the music, because that shirt is nice and useful and durable and makes your life that much brighter. I also like the idea that maybe you happen upon the music and get enthusiastic, and see what kind of stuff there is in the shop, and instead of the usual boring, aesthetically disappointing, shoddily made and overpriced stuff you’ve been trained into expecting, there’s all this stuff that’s actually really cool — proper, well-made stuff you want to wear in its own right.
So… music and “merch”, it’s a common enough combination, but I think the idea that both sides can be stand-alone is something a little different. It means I spend a lot of time on the clothing side of things, and while this is personally a little challenging, I’m also kind of a demon with songwriting, so right now, apart from the frustration of having to spend a lot of time *not* writing music for 12 hours a day as I’d like to do, it’s not a major problem. I enjoy designing stuff and making art. The fact that it links up with what I’m doing musically is fun for me, even if it doesn’t matter in practice for people interested just in wearing the clothes or just listening to the music.
I mentioned that product write-ups are my second least favourite part of all this. It’s not that I don’t like doing them — I try to make them fun and different, something that, if someone should happen upon it, makes them laugh or think or have some kind of a reaction beyond the normal, slightly bored yearning to buy stuff, or wearily looking at stuff to buy. Maybe that’s counter-productive in our times. Maybe I’d do better to just say “Here, buy this before it’s gone and you miss out” instead of engaging people on other levels while they read about some strange t-shirt or bag or something. But, whether I like it or not, and whether it would be easier to just flog stuff as blandly as everyone else seems to do, I don’t do that. I make little stories, paint pictures, create odd jokes, and craft my write-ups as though they have the potential to give someone something when they come across them, whether they actually buy anything in the end or not. In this way, it’s *exactly* like the music. I think maybe some people think it's actually a strange and elaborate joke, that the stuff isn't real. Possibly in consequence of this, I don’t sell very many things... yet.
Doing well-thought-out and engaging product descriptions is certainly not worth the effort in terms of person-hours, or in terms of time spent doing something other than music. But… it’s what it is, and I do actually believe in the products I design. Maybe they’ll take off one day. Who knows?
But … and this is where I’m (finally!) going with all this: there’s something worse than product write-ups. Actually, it’s kind of an adjunct to product write-ups. And it’s marketing.
Marketing is exhausting. Mostly because every one of us is marketed to every waking hour that we spend in anything close to “civilisation”. We have defences we’re not even aware of at this point. It takes a person an average of 3-5 times seeing the same thing (be it a product, an album cover, a brand logo) before they even *recognise* that they’ve seen it before. It's why having a recognisable logo, consistent backgrounds, colour schemes, etc., are helpful.
They have to see it loads more times, and over a period of time, repeatedly, before it’s something they’ll click on or spend energy investigating for themselves. And when they’re at that point, you’d better make damned sure you put that link right in front of them before they forget or get distracted or decide it’s too much energy for them to go and click.
Marketing: Sapping the Life Out of Indie Artists Everywhere
So, if I were doing this whole thing right, I’d be creating heaps of content (posts) for social media every day. Posting at 4-hour intervals to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, maybe dead ol’ Tumblr, and who knows where else. If you notice, Facebook and Pinterest have options to release your posts according to a specified timetable... this is why. If I was a little more into that side of things, I would prepare a bunch of stuff and release it on a regular timer. Eh, it's maybe something to think about sometime.... As it is, I don’t have the time or the energy for that. So when I do post things (maybe once every few days, every week, every couple of weeks), it’s basically like throwing it all down a black hole of forgetfulness. If I do it too much, it depresses me, and negatively affects my ability to do the things I love: making music, creating weird posters, art and clothing. Having to actually flog it to people to earn my bread....
Well, there’s the trap, in a nutshell.
“Other people do it, though….” I hear you saying. But how well do they succeed with it? And here’s the crux of why I’ve written this today (apart from the fact that it’s content to remind you that I’m here and working at stuff you can easily miss or ignore, like my 8th album "Let There Be Light"): I don’t think they do succeed at it nearly as much as you're led to believe. I mean, some of them do, I'm sure, but if it were easy, would there really be an entire huge industry that has sprung up to "help"?
As you probably know if you're doing anything remotely in this vein yourself, it’s not enough to make an album and release it into the streaming sphere and just hope that people find it there. No one takes any notice, no one even necessarily comes across it, and if they do, they may or may not remember to add it to their liked artists, or to a playlist, or (imagine this!) share it to their friends. It’s just something they happen to be consuming at the time if it does happen to get served up to them. In fact, even if it gets stuck in their heads and they have the time and energy and are willing to expend the effort and take the initiative, they might have a hard time finding it again. Web's still a big place, you know... for now.
So whether it’s music or art or merchandise of any kind, you discover that you have to keep reminding them, over and over until they’re sick of seeing it, that your stuff exists. And that’s assuming you’re even getting it before the market-weary eyeballs of people who will be into it in the first place. It’s also assuming that you’re doing something 100% original, not something that piggybacks off something already-existing and popular (and probably subject to copyright violations if you get successful with it), which is a lot easier.
If you do all this reminding and timed posting the way they say you need to (especially if you’re starting from scratch, with no contacts in your ”industry” at all), it can not only take up a lot of your time, it can also turn people off while simultaneously wearing you the hell out. And more than that, it can also make you feel like a real, aggressive, greedy dick. This activity -- promotion, marketing -- compels you to acknowledge that no matter what kind of high and important art you are creating and sending like gentle kisses into the little world, your sister, what's being received is Product. You're creating consumer products for people to distract themselves in these (Wonderful! Progressive! Scientifically proven! Act Now!!) dreary times. But that’s not even the depressing part!
Here’s where it gets depressing:
This sad state of over-saturated-marketed-to demoralised modern life has given rise to a huge host of “services” for people who are still trying to get original, new stuff in front of the right audiences.
“Great, so use them!” I hear you lisp glibly, with a slightly threatened tone of superiority in your voice.
Hehehe…. and how far should one go in the idea of “One must spend money to make money”?
Let’s have a look at what’s in my email inbox, Facebook newsfeed, and Instagram messaging today. (Various permutations of this, in greater volume than that represented here find their way into my email box and newsfeeds every day. These are a representative collection garnered in the past hour).
“Hire an SEO expert to improve your Google search rankings” (minimum outlay: $200)
“Upgrade now to the Pro version of a music licensing site on which you have a free (essentially useless) account for just $49 per year — then we may or may not improve your visibility there. If we don’t you can always buy more points to spend within our system (smallest extra points package is $4.99).”
Submit a song to an opportunity we’re running over here on another free-but-useless version of this other music promotion site with whom you have an account. The only catch is, in order to submit music to any of these things, you need to upgrade. But don’t worry, the basic subscription is on sale now, only €88 for the first year (normally €168).
Hi! Remember that video you wanted to watch a couple of months ago about leveraging Youtube to get people to know about your music? And you had to enter your email address? And we told you to submit your music to bigger Youtube channels within your genre (some of whom charge a fee, even though they make good money through the Youtube ads system)? Well, we’re back, and selling you a premium course all about that, with promises for more, for just a one-time fee of $149.99 if you sign up today.
If you spend €20 to promote this post you made last week in order to try to prevent us removing 2 more followers, you can reach a maximum of 4,000 people per day to make your Facebook profile look popular. After that, unless you keep spending money, we’ll just show your posts to 10-30 or so of your 1500 followers until you spend money again. Oh, and of course, we'll remove two every ten days like clockwork, and there's nothing you can do about that. BWAHAHAHA! (Thanks! -- the Facebook marketing team)
An Instagram influencer and model interested in collaborating. In return for sending one or more of my clothing products to him, together with a contribution towards professional photoshoot costs (unspecified amount), he’ll model them and promote them on his Instagram site. (of all the email contacts, this was kind of the most genuine, and something I’d maybe do if I had the money to start sending out free stuff and money to strangers). This is really selling "reach" -- the ability to get your stuff in front of more eyeballs than you can do by yourself. If I were to order a bunch of my own cloths (because yes, I have to order and pay for them the same as anyone else, I don't get free samples) and ask some of the very good-looking folks here in Avola to model them, I'd get some pretty excellent results, great-looking people in a stunningly beautiful setting. But I wouldn't have the ready-made reach that collaborating with an Instagram "influencer" can provide. That's something that I'd have to hope to build over time doing it all myself.
Buy databases of contact information for radio stations, Spotify playlist curators, Youtube channel owners and music blog pages (a range of packaged electronic files from €59 — €240, 60% off, so act now!)
Now, to the Facebook newsfeed, Batman!
As you’re probably aware by now, about 20 - 25% of your Facebook newsfeed is paid advertising, targeted towards your interests and interactions based on super-secret algorithms that track your behaviour and serve you up stuff you’re likely to buy or at least click on. (Companies, bands, small-time startups, artists, musicians, and purveyors of services etc., pay good money for your clicks, whether you like, follow or buy anything from them afterwards or not — this is where Facebook gets a lot of its profits from these days).
So, let’s hit “refresh” and find some paid-for “opportunities” that await me as an unknown musical artist and designer.
email catching funnel directing me to a FREE link on how to earn a six-figure income every month using Shopify to drive my website sales. (The cheapest Shopify, by the way, costs $29 + 2% commissions on any sales you make. I don’t use it.)
Special offer for a ready-made templated video creation service to make stunning videos to make people want to buy things. Starter pack (10 videos per month) is only a simple one-time payment of $77. But it’s super-easy and will make videos for you that look like everyone else’s — thus removing that weird hand-made artsy individual look that scares everyone away.
A similar firm offering the same kind of thing, but specifically for social media posts. There’s a not-very-configurable free trial version, after that it’s just $16.67 per month. Google My Business tool. I’ll leave that open in the background and find out how much of a waste of time and energy it might be later on, once I’ve finished this blog post. Buy an email course on “Original Design Model” (ODM) e-commerce to make your business thrive. Basically, a course on what I already do, creating and selling my own designs (as opposed to finding cheap stuff on Alibaba and flipping it for a profit). It was too depressing to click into to find out what it costs — they try to get your email address before they tell you anything, and I don’t need any more junk mail of this kind.
Try this product that gives you analytics across all your social media and websites so you can plan more effective marketing strategies. It’s free to try, just punch in all your social media addresses and your email address and you're good to go... but after 7 days, if you want to keep using it, the cheapest package is €85 per month.
I’m pretending to be an out-of-the-box nerdy guy who hates marketing. If you click through to my website, I’ll funnel you to sign up to consultancy courses for free on this other site… they’ll tell you more about what it costs afterwards once we both have your email address, personal information and a list of interests.
A GDPR-compliant email-grabbing scheme that will give you 40,000 email addresses a day to spam with junk flogging your crap. (one-year license €149)
Sign up now! (it starts in 4 minutes when you click through!) for a free seminar on how to generate thousands of leads from just 400 facebook visits. Give us your email address to save your spot! It’s already 75% full, so act now! (because, you know, a pre-recorded internet seminar can get full). By the way, we also have this targeted funnelling product you’ll need to succeed. It only costs $197 if you sign up right now, otherwise you’re looking at $297 per year. Then there are also add-on products to make it all more efficient. Plus, you know, you’ll still have to start paying Facebook for ads (like this one) -- but you could make thousands, so buy now!
Ooh! Some music-related ones!
Payola. You pay us $111 for a track ($336 for an album) and we’ll show it to radio stations. If no one’s interested at all of the 30,000 places we flog you to after 3 months, we’ll pay you back. We’ll also generate stuff for you to tell you what industry folk think of you. So pay us now!
Get automated mastering for your tracks, starting at €6.99, so you can sound like a professional without ever learning to do it yourself!
Anyway. You get the picture. I don’t even need to go through the Instagram messages offering to bump my products on their marketing portal for $30 a pop (there’s usually one or two of these every time I make a post. Like many of the other followers my posts pick up each time, they unlike you once you’ve liked them back.)
N.B. — if you like my Instagram, and you seem to have added me to your feed for no good reason, and you also have a “public” Instagram, I’ll have a look at who you are. If I like what you’re doing, I’ll like some of your posts and add you, because it's maybe something I find interesting enough to come across in my daily feed. And when you post something and I like something about it, I'll like it. But I know when you’re just looking for adds. It doesn’t fool any of us. If I actually like what you’re doing, I don’t really care if you un-add me (though I think it’s parsimonious and kind of self-servingly shitty), I’ll still keep you in my feed and like stuff you post if I *actually* like it. If your stuff is uninspired and you add and then un-add me, contented that I’ve added you back and your little empire of boring crap has grown by one new follow-back… I’ll just un-add you right back. You started it. Maybe that’s anti-networking and harms me, somehow. I don’t care. I have a civilisation to re-build out of the barbarism we’re falling into right now.
Anyway! So… that’s more-or-less a “day in the life” of the not-directly-writing-music aspect of this “Indie artist’s” life.
Crux, Advice and Encouragement
Apart from having a little rant about the services industry that clogs up my online life with endless and expensive pay-to-win schemes, with carefully un-plugged references, here is my point:
It’s very easy to feel disheartened by all the hard work you have to do to get your stuff out there. It’s very easy to feel like you’ll only get somewhere if you start using all your money to buy the eyeballs of the people you want to see you, steal their email addresses, and annoy them into accepting you. If you’re doing anything remotely individual or inspired, it’s wildly tempting to throw out some boring, anaemic-looking or -sounding piece of crap that hits all the right algorithms to keep the wolf at bay and then return to your real work.
If you look at all the helpful advice videos that Spotify and other portals throw at you, they all say “Engage with your fans, get it all out on social media!” like it’s the easiest, most relaxing thing to do. They give you dazzling "potential audience" numbers that make it sound like you'd have a hard time *not* making a huge success of it. But it’s actually the hardest part. Even if you somehow managed to reach every single one of the 2 Billion people who look at Facebook every day, how many of them are even looking for what you've got? How many will be in the mood for it when they see it? How many will scroll right past the muted video you spent hours editing to perfection, completely unaware that it was even there? How many are scrolling around in Facebook looking at this stuff you're putting in front of them because it's a fair replacement for buying things they can't really afford anyway? Times are hard and budgets are tight. You're struggling not just to get your music and products 1. seen, you then have to 2. break through increasingly durable resistances to impulse purchasing impeded by straitened financial conditions in volatile economic times. And that can feel impossible, even with a huge "reach". And you shouldn’t feel bad if you feel that way. The fact that there’s a huge industry feeding off your lonesome little efforts to get your stuff seen and heard should let you know: this is not easy. And until it finally happens to become so (until you become a multinational, world-famous brand, in other words), it’s not rewarding at all, either.
Incidentally, this also happened in the restaurant industry in a lot of developed countries. People decided, en masse, that they'd rather go to a chain restaurant with what they know will be middling to crappy food than take the risk of spending money on a privately-owned small restaurant which might have amazing (or crappy) food. Even when the "known" is pretty bad, they choose to stay safe with it rather than splash out on something they've never heard of before. This is why buying eyeballs and getting people to feel safe that they've heard of you has become so important.
So... given the difficulties, and the social and cultural climate, maybe your big break really is waiting for you down one of those pay-to-win avenues, who knows? But weigh it carefully before you start to throw money at it. (After all, if I opted into all of the things I received in just the hour or so I spent writing this, I’d have spent almost $2,000 in training and services that have no real guarantee of getting me any closer to “success”. At best, one or another, or some combination of them could "increase my chances". But it's still literally ...completely literally... a gamble). For example, if that music promotion site has over 300,000 people registered …. ask yourself ... how many of them have you heard of? How many of them can say they’re making a living from their music ever since they joined? How many of the newest stars that you know of got their start that way? How many of the licensing opportunities on offer are actually looking for the kind of thing you do? Will paying these sites for the privilege of uploading your music to them really get you the foot up you’re looking for? Who knows? That’s an anxiety or an opportunity you need to think about for yourself, and maybe take as a starting-point for further thought and research.
It is worth noticing that every single one of these services, whether they’re targeted towards music specifically or not, is offering to buy you a potentially greater share of the right eyeballs (or knowledge and products designed to let you know how to get to those eyeballs) in the great, giant world wide web.
It may be naive and outdated to believe that if you work hard enough and do it for long enough, your work will reach some appreciative ears and eyeballs eventually. The web’s a big and ever-changing place, after all. If you can afford to throw some money towards one or two of these things that come your way and seem engaging to you personally in some way, and you have a little to throw, by all means, try it out. One can, after all, sometimes gamble and win. But remember, what’s trending right now will be forgotten within a few months, and abandoning your convictions and personal direction in order to jump on today’s bandwagon might look like the quicker, easier fast-pass to the enduring love of stadium-sized audiences right now…. but what profit an artist if he gain the world (for a couple months, anyway) but lose his own soul?
Do your own thing. Maybe these are not your times, and that maybe sucks and feels frustrating or demoralising while you’re spending all your waking time doing your best to “get it out there”, but if you do something you believe in, it is, at very least, its own reward from the very start. That’s worth something, and is, furthermore, rare to happen upon in this over-marketed world of ours — in other words, something genuine is something that has a potential to spark a genuine human response in the right human hearts. Maybe it’s not a stadium-filling one, but maybe it is! What are there? 6 or 7 Billion people on this planet now? You’re sure to reach a few of them -- eventually -- if you keep going. And if you keep going by pushing your own limits, rising to your own challenges, and reaching for your own musical (or artistic) goals, and you do make a good go of it, expressing what’s specifically and uniquely yours to express, and that does eventually reach some resonating people…. that’s worth far more than anything else. Even in this increasingly expensive world of ours. Honing your skills and understanding and means of expression as an artist is time well-spent for its own sake, at very least.
"But what if it doesn’t work? What if I can’t make a living at it?" you ask. Well… that’s not actually an artistic goal. You may be driven by something other than your artistic goals, and that’s ok! Every creative artist in every field wants to find some recognition, appreciation of what they’re doing. In modern society, we equate that with making money. We seek remuneration as proof of the success of our efforts. We crowdsource it through social media and streaming portals, and there are algorithms that make this possible (or impossible) according to how easily we can be ready-classified into a recognisably profitable “proven model” — But that’s also why there’s all this marketing around, looking to catch you in your moneymaker. Looking to funnel you into thinking you can ride out on the top of the algorithm if only you know which kind of (sorry) drivel you need to be pumping out.
Funnily enough, It’s also why so many non-indie films being made are so dull and predictable, and wind up tanking out at the box office. It’s also why people seek out the oddities, something refreshing, something different. Maybe not too different, but at very least, "safely different". It's why indie games companies can suddenly find themselves with a weirdo-fun hit on their hands. So it's not all "sell out to the system or drown in the cesspits of miserable obscurity". There's always a little glimmer there, a little carrot to chase if you're hoping to make unusual stuff and have it recognised by the people around you. Something you're doing in earnest may well strike the right refreshing chord at the right time.
But... and of course, this blog post breaks all the rules of SEO keyword optimisation, modern attention-span wordy lengths, it breaks the "be bubbly and positive to attract feel good followers" rule, and assumes a level of intelligent engagement from the reader that one is told repeatedly never to try to reach (we're all idiots who can't relate to anything too deep or earnest, remember! Only surface-level buzzword ego-stroking gains a following! Don't encourage reflection or thought, it's too much! That's been the advice for years now, and it's becoming more and more true every day. Prove me wrong!).... it also won't throw up a pop-up asking you to give me your email address to keep you informed of more like this, because I personally hate that shit. Even when I really like something and *want* to sign up for the damned newsletter, I resent the pop-up. Apparently they work, but fuck that, that's depressing for its own reasons. And that does harm me, because you'll forget, and I won't have any annoying and intrusive way to remind you.
But anyway. If you've read this far, first of all thank you. Second of all, if you're an indie artist wondering how to get your stuff out there... please understand:
"Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on."
There are two main roads (call them strategies, I guess, if you want) you can take, and which one is right for you depends on an understanding of your deepest motivations in doing what you're doing. By understanding what, in the things you do, is you Primary Driving Motivation, you can take the right decisions to make it work.
I'm going to borrow some terminology from Martial Arts. So let's call this first approach "External-Internal style"
If you are looking (primarily) for fame and fortune and glory (and fortune!), and your art or music or design work or whatever you do is your ticket to that, that's ok. that's the mainstream, that's where you're going and hell, that's just fine. I think you'll find that creating the right kind of work, and funnelling people to it using the methods outlined (everywhere, constantly, 24-hours-a-day, in every other article you'll come across in whatever Google search brought you here, in emails and sponsored posts everywhere you look and click) really can get you at least a modest income and enough recognition to build from there. This is work that's optimised towards marketing -- the forms and inspirations come from outside. You can study what's popular, what sells, and tailor your work towards a slightly-different version of that. You can accept that whatever makes you a little bit quirky, that thing that worries you because it doesn't quite sound like [list 10 popular bands or performers in your genre that you've been trying to sound like] will actually become your strength as an artist in your own right, it'll be the thing that makes people *your* fan instead of someone else's. And if you're creating stuff in a "tried and trending" vein, you will eventually hit the algorithms in the streaming services, you will get into the curated playlists, and find some kind of following. It might take a little time, and you will have heaps of competition with which to contend (it's a well-worn path, after all), but it will happen. If you want to do it quickly, you really can buy some "influencer" addresses, learn how to write compelling pitches and flog, flog flog your stuff to the right people for where you're looking to take this stuff. Get together a really punchy Electronic Press Kit that sells the hell out of you and flog, flog, flog that product you've crafted. Think of yourself as a brand, as a product, and sell it. Try out that professional online mastering for your first efforts, if you feel it will get you as close as you can to the sound you're trying to emulate. After all, if you're not really a tweaky sound-geeky kind of person, if you do make a success of things, you can get someone else to mix your stuff later on if you want. There's nothing wrong with doing this stuff in this way if it's a means to a successful business venture in which you are doing art or music or whatever. That's path one, that's the big, wide road with plenty of inns and roadsigns and fellow-travellers along the way. You'll still have to work hard to get to where you want to go, but it's most certainly not impossible. The more you think of it as a business venture in which you happen to exercise your skill in music or the arts, the easier it will be to apply yourself to the techniques that work along this road, and perceive where best to expend your energy to the greatest effect.
If, however, you have an odd, unkillable motivation to express something that is vitally, totally yours, totally out-of-genre, totally unlike anything else remotely that has existed in quite this way before....if it burns in you like the message of some Old Testament prophet that cannot be thwarted by the promise of mere lucre, if you're driven to create odd, maybe uncomfortable art...something that challenges, questions, argues, rises up against every staid convention, laughs in the face of impossible odds.... well, welcome to the Low road, fellow-degenerate. This is more akin to Internal-External style Martial Arts. Make sure you love doing it for its own sake. Make certain, as you tread this path, that you feel most alive when you are doing that thing, and do it with all your might. Funnel schemes and buying exposure probably won't work so well for this kind of thing, so get used to the idea that you're doing this longterm, and for the sheer hard-working joy it brings you. This is the Low road, where those Beings of Light who say with Milton "Better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven" choose to tread. It's incredibly hard work and, as even your kindest friends pretend not to be weirded out by what you're doing, and even as you pretend they succeed in hiding their bewilderment, be strong. This road is rugged, and requires a lot of soul-searching, and unflinching understanding about what really drives you, and what provokes you to fits of frustration and self-doubt, and understanding what works to keep you motivated through all of it. As self-defeating as this may sound, given the socio-economic landscape we've been looking at, this path is ok too, as long as you find that you're willing to accept it because, by gum, this is what you're born to do, even if nobody gets it. Throw it all into your creative work, be prepared -- willing! -- to drain your very last drop of blood into that cup. Make that stuff that maybe nobody gets now.... through it, you help to create the times it will live in and inform. Let it be the amazing oddity that future generations after the next apocalypse dig up and find deeply, strangely inspiring. Your first duty is to Create. Renumeration for what you do is.... unfortunately, very much secondary to this. Remember that Rembrandt painted self-portraits and beggars because he didn't have the money to pay models.
Having said that, just because you choose the tougher of two pretty tough roads, it doesn't actually automatically doom you to the absolute isolation and grinding, inescapable graveyard ghost realms of the most unknown of unknown artists. There will be people who get what you're trying to do. It may take a long time to find them, or for them to find you. But in the meantime, there is the exquisite joy and destroying frustration to drive you deeper into that Thing You Were Born To Do. Everything in the world will make you doubt it.
Keep doing that thing. You're more likely, in times of self-doubt, to fall for something in the *endless streams* of marketing that finds its way to you. But look at it this way: if you're getting all this marketing stuff served up to you... someone, somewhere knows what you're doing. Even if it's just some crappy marketing algorithm.
To succeed, an artist -- whether motivated primarily by external recognition and remuneration, or by internal expression and exploration, or any strange mix of these -- has a lot of hard work to do. Since this is the case, it is important to know (honestly and unflinchingly) what drives you. Embrace it. Sometimes it'll feel like embracing a god or a lover. Sometimes it'll feel like embracing a creepy guy who stinks of cologne and spends way too much time practicing what he looks like in a mirror. Sometimes it'll feel like embracing a dead lamb who died of frost in the morning hours as you take it to a hole you've dug to receive its too-frail frailty (and if you've never experienced this particular range of human emotion... that's nothing you ever want to seek out knowingly).
And do it. And do it. And do it. And love it, even when you hate some of it sometimes. Put all of it into your art, and make it work.
Live that dance.